(CN) – Pesticide giant Ortho said Tuesday that it will phase out its use of a neonicotinoid chemical that is harmful to bees and other pollinators.
Ortho, a subsidiary of Marysville, Ohio-based Scotts Miracle-Gro, promised to phase out neonicotinoids in eight products that are used to control garden pests and diseases by 2021.
The company said it will change the chemical makeup of three of its products by 2017, and adjust the remaining products later.
The chemicals commonly known as neonics attack the central nervous systems of insects that frequent gardens. Environmentalists say neonics contribute to the declining bee population, which play an important role in pollinating food crops.
“This decision comes after careful consideration regarding the range of possible threats to honeybees and other pollinators,” Tim Martin, vice president and general manager of the Ortho brand, said in a statement. “While agencies in the United States are still evaluating the overall impact of neonics on pollinator populations, it’s time for Ortho to move on.”
Martin said that the company’s new products may need to be applied more frequently, but the risk of hurting bees will also be less. The price of the products is not expected to change much.
Various agencies and advocacy groups have researched the decline of bees in North America that began in 2006, referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder.
A report released in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated that honey production increased in 2014. A subsequent study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California’s environmental agency found that the effects of neonics on bees are partially dependent on the type of crop or plant they are used on.
It is unclear how much Ortho’s decision will impact the bee population, and neonics can still be found in a variety of chemicals that are used for both food and textile crop production and private gardens.
Other top manufacturers of neonics – including Bayer CropScience and Syngenta – have said that existing research has overstated the risks to bees.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in March that it would consider protecting two species of wild bumblebees under the Endangered Species Act, after receiving a request from Defenders of Wildlife.
“Farmers benefit from bees. They probably don’t benefit from some other insects that they intend to kill, but they’re killing the bees on accident,” Jay Tutchton, senior staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife told Courthouse News. “To use a war analogy, this is friendly fire.”
Roughly one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, 80 percent of which is done by honeybees.
Tutchton said that using neonics for personal gardens is unnecessary, and compared the chemical to DDT – a pesticide that was banned in the United States after it was proven to harm wildlife and the environment.
“These are just unnecessarily destructive products. They should go the way of DDT,” Tutchton said. “DDT worked great if all you cared about was killing mosquitoes, but if you wanted a world with bald eagles, and ospreys and pelicans, it was a bad idea.”
He also noted some of the consequences of losing bees.
“In China there are actually places where people have to pollinate fur trees by hand. They gather some pollen and dust the next flower, because they’ve killed all of their bees,” Tutchton said. “Bees are providing valuable pollination services for free.”
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